What sun protection should I be using for my kids?

I'm wondering about sun protection for my kids. Should they be wearing SPF every day like I do? Or just when they're outside / at the beach / in the pool etc? And what type of sunscreen is best? I want to protect my kids skin obviously but I don't want to be slathering them with products containing chemicals every single day. Thanks in advance for your advice!

Glad you asked this sun protection question! I don’t know about you all, but I found this parenting challenge with my 3 kids to be very different depending on their ages. So I think I’ll separate them out a little. Please forgive me if I use some terms from physics.

One scary thing to remember is that a child born now has a MUCH higher chance of developing the deadly form of skin cancer called melanoma, than older generations. We don’t know exactly why this is, but it is probably related to climate change and thinning of the protective ozone layer.

Ages 0 – 2

Babies and small children have a lower surface to volume ratio.  This just means that if you were to put a lot of chemical based sunscreen on a baby or very small child, they could absorb more of the chemicals than might be good. Bottom line, for 0-1 just keep them out of the direct sun as much as possible, if prone to sunburn, use hats and baby clothing that’s sun protective. At 1-2, as they start crawling and walking, it’s harder and then you might need to be a little on exposed areas. Especially if they won’t keep a hat on. Try to use suncreen that has zinc and has a natural base. Most baby stores carry these now.

Ages 2 – 12ish

Peer pressure or the need to be super cool isn’t so much of a factor yet. Most parents can get children this age to wear “surfer suits,” also known as rash guards, or sun protection shirts. This is especially important for kids prone to sun burns, and who have a family history of  skin cancers.   Try to get some surfer videos which are fun to watch, so they can see the shirts in action. There are lots of good companies now and websites for these. Try Coolibar, Solumbra, J Crew, Athleta, Patagonia, and Roxy.

Ages 12 – 20

I think this is when it gets tough, because being and acting like all your friends is WAY more important than what mom or dad says.  🙂 And we have to “pick our battles” at this age. Some parenting experts say that we need 7 positive interactions with a teen to every 1 negative interaction, to keep them communicating with us. So try to stay positive while encouraging your teens to use sunscreen.

Here are some things to try if your children are very resistant at certain points to sunscreen:

  • Buy a lot of small bottles of sunscreen and put them everywhere, so it’s easy for them to find one when they are in a hurry.
  • Ask them what types they like the best. Some kids like sprays, some like a certain scent.  Anything to get them using it more.
  • If it’s a girl, try getting her a really cute cover up. Talk to teens about just putting a T-shirt on after being in the water. Or, just wearing one in the water.
  • Text them good, but entertaining videos on this subject. You’ll get the eye roll maybe, but it might sink in. Australia has had a lot of success with these, and does a much better job of educating kids about skin cancer (see here).
  • If you have someone in your family who has had precancerous spots or skin cancers, point it out. Have that person show them where the surgeries were!

Hope this helps!!  Dr. I 🙂

Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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